Berries are in season and there is nothing better like a bright, celebratory brunch punctuated with lemon, and this stuffed French toast is just that. Fluffy, custard-like slices of brioche get filled with creamy ricotta and mascarpone cheese that is flavored with fresh lemon juice and zest, and then get toasted in butter until golden-brown. It’s the classic French toast you know and love, only elevated with a decadent center that makes it fit for a celebration.
Serves 4 to 6
One pound loaf unsliced brioche bread
1 large lemon
One 16-ounce container ricotta cheese
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk
6 large eggs
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
For garnish: toasted pecans, cooked bacon crumbles
For serving: fresh berries, maple syrup, powdered sugar and finely grated lemon zest
Trim the ends off an unsliced loaf brioche or challah bread. Cut crosswise into 2-inch thick slices (4 to 6 slices total). Cut a pocket into each slice: Arrange it cut-side down on the cutting board. Position a small knife parallel to the cutting board and use it to cut a pocket into the side, being careful not to cut all the way through. Insert your fingers into the pocket and gently press around with your fingers to compress the bread slightly.
Finely grate the zest of 1 large lemon into a medium bowl (about 2 teaspoons); juice the lemon into the bowl until you have 2 tablespoons. Add ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir until the sugar is almost completely dissolved.
Transfer into a piping bag or large plastic zip-top bag. Cut off one bottom corner of the zip-top or the tip of the piping bag and generously pipe the filling into the pocket of each bread slice. The filling should completely fill the pocket but not overflow, and you may have leftover filling.
Place 1 1/2 cups whole, 6 large eggs, remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in a 9×13-inch baking dish and whisk until smooth and no streaks of unincorporated egg are visible. Fit a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.
Place as many bread slices as can fit in a single layer into the milk mixture. Soak, flipping once, until the bread is saturated but not soggy, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer the bread slices to the wire rack; repeat soaking the remaining slices.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the unsalted butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add as many bread slices as can fit in a single layer with space around each one. Cook until golden-brown and the custard in the bread is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side (reduce the heat as needed to cook the toast for the full amount of time). Transfer to serving plates and tent with aluminum foil if not serving right away or keep warm in a 250ºF oven.
Cook the remaining bread slices, melting 2 tablespoons of the unsalted butter in the pan before each batch. Garnish with pecans, bacon crumbles, and mint, if deired. Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar, maple syrup, berries, and more lemon zest if desired.
Make ahead: The cheese filling can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
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